Twenty years ago next month, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke came to California to engage in a high profile debate on Proposition 209, the initiative to close down affirmative action. Joe Hicks, former executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Martine Luther King, Jr., took up the challenge to debate Duke at Cal State Northridge. Hicks passed away this week at age 75.

Duke is back in the news endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a robocall yesterday forcing Trump and his team to rebuke Duke just as the pro-Prop 209 supporters twenty years ago said Duke did not represent what they were fighting for.

Interest was so high for the debate that two banks of television cameras recorded the proceedings and 1,000 protestors showed up at Cal State Northridge, whose student association had invited Duke on campus because members of the association claimed no Prop 209 supporters agreed to make an appearance.

While the Los Angeles Times account of the debate said it was a civil discourse inside the hall between Hicks and Duke, protestors clashed with police outside.

Hicks argued for affirmative action to offset discrimination that existed in the United States. However, he came to defend the United States as he appeared before the Oxford Union Society in 2015 to argue against the proposition that America was institutionally racist.

Hicks’ life followed an unusual course from the American Civil Liberties Union to being a pundit identified by the media as an African-American conservative, to co-founding Community Advocates (CAI). Hicks founded the group with self-described white, Jewish Democrat David Lehrer, with the support of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Community Advocates was an organization that argued that there has been steady and continuing progress in the arena of race and human relations. Los Angeles suffers not from hatred or animosity between different groups, CAI declared, but from a lack of understanding based in part on a lack of opportunities for different ethnicities to mix in a positive way.

I appeared with Hicks a number of times when he co-hosted PBS’s KCET’s Life and Times and he spoke to my public policy class at Pepperdine. His goal always was to attempt to bridge racial, ethnic and cultural divides not only in Los Angeles, but nationally as well. He played an important and successful role in those efforts. In these troubled times of ethnic strife he will be missed.

More on Joe Hicks from Community Advocates here.